Growing up, I used to sit in front of my parent’s bookshelf, where they had a leather-bound encyclopedia made of exactly 48 books. I taught myself the things I was curious about at the time. From space to the life in the sea, I was always learning something different.
But my interest wasn’t necessarily in learning more about one specific subject. Learning to me was the mechanism to ask better questions, and that required learning enough about many things.
Ask my parents and they will tell you that I still am the “why?” kid.
In one of my previous blog posts, I asked my clients to come to me with problems and not with answers, as my real super power lies in deep diving, asking better questions and coming up with creative answers.
Here I want to talk about expertise. More precisely, how expertise can be a weakness.
My academic background is a mixture of chemistry, business and now product management. I have worked in sales, merchandising, operations, project management, and customer success.
I have fulfilled my roles with excellence but got itchy feet everytime I felt like I had already created leap improvements.
I am every recruiter nightmare.
I was told many times I needed to stop hopping around so I could “build a career”. But here is what no one told me: innovation is not a linear process, it happens in the intersections when you are able to connect dots that others have yet to see.
This week I watched Naveen Jain, founder of Moon Express, speak at the Founders of the Future. During his short interview, he shared with the audience a simple but powerful message: Dare to go into industries you have no expertise on. Sometimes the answer lies not in thinking outside the box, but in creating a completely different box.
In many ways, experts are deeply ingrained in their fields and have their minds shaped around the existing solutions and constraints. Unable to turn challenges upside down and bring completely new solutions to the table, they try to drive innovation through incrementally improving solutions that are already on the table.
The second biggest obstacle on the way of experts is their reputation. They are afraid to be labeled crazy. But, to bring a moonshot vision to life, you need to be willing to be called crazy time and time again. By investors, the press, your friends and everyone else.
In Naveen’s own words, if your idea isn’t crazy, you are not thinking big enough.
Incremental improvements generate marginally better results. And that is not good enough when facing humankind’s biggest challenges such as climate change, sustainable sources of energy, education etc.
In order to create solutions that will radically improve the output, we need to turn the problem on its head and tackle it from a multitude of different angles.
Curiosity, restless questioning of “why?” and no fear of being labeled crazy are some of the key elements that make-up the formula of innovation.
So sitting at that table, listening to Naveen, I made a promise to myself: I will never again not do something because I am not an expert.
And to all CEO’s and founders out there, if you want to solve a big problem, hire a cross-disciplinary team, look out for the curious ones, the people that will restlessly ask “why?” and “why not?”, and are not afraid of being wrong or crazy. Those are the people that will help you fulfill your moonshot vision and make a long lasting impact.